[Canadian] Military failing to remove barriers to diversifying ranks: ombudsman

Long-standing challenge:

Canada’s military ombudsman is joining the chorus of those accusing the Canadian Armed Forces and Defence Department of failing to address long-standing barriers to recruit and retain more women, visible minorities and Indigenous people.

Gregory Lick says in a new report that the military and department have adopted numerous initiatives over the last 20 years to increase the share of Armed Forces members who come from those underrepresented groups.

The moves followed several human-rights decisions and the passage of employment equity laws, amid a growing disconnect between the makeup of the military, predominantly composed of white males, and the rest of the country’s population.

Yet the ombudsman found those initiatives resulted in little progress on increasing representation from underrepresented groups, with the military consistently falling far short of its own targets.

“I am adamant that in order to not repeat the same mistakes, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces need to do things differently,” Lick said in a statement Monday.

“Fresh and creative thinking is required. Rehashing former initiatives simply will not cut it. Period. We will continue to monitor developments within the defence community in order to inform our own next steps on this matter.”

The ombudsman’s report comes weeks after a panel of retired Armed Forces members released the results of its own review, which took the military to task for not acting on dozens of previous studies and reviews of racism in the organization.

The scathing anti-racism report, which followed a yearlong review ordered by then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan, also accused the military of not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other extremists from infiltrating its ranks.

Lick’s review, also requested by Sajjan, looked at efforts to increase the share of women, visible minorities and Indigenous people in the Defence Department and military since becoming subject to employment equity laws in 1997 and 2002, respectively.

It specifically noted the military’s failure to make any real progress toward its various targets, which include having 25.1 per cent of all Armed Forces members be women, 11.8 per cent be visible minorities and 3.5 per cent Indigenous people.

“Despite the CAF’s efforts over the past 19 years, the percentage of women members stagnated until 2019, when a one-per-cent increase brought that representation level to 16 per cent of all CAF members,” the report reads.

“The limited increase in Aboriginal peoples (2.8 per cent) and visible minority members (9.6 per cent) has not been sufficient to keep up with Canadian demographics,” it adds.

The report goes on to note that not only has the Armed Forces failed to achieve its targets, but that those targets have been repeatedly criticized by the Canadian Human Rights Commission and others as far too low given the country’s changing composition.

The Defence Department reported more success in terms of diversifying its civilian workforce, but nonetheless faced many of the same challenges.

The ombudsman reported that his office had received 931 complaints relating to recruitment and 879 complaints involving promotions or career advancement since 2010. Another 189 workplace discrimination complaints were received.

“While designated employment equity groups did not submit all these complaints and not all would have been deemed to be unfair, these numbers show that the DND and CAF face challenges to the provision of fair and equitable employment,” he wrote.

The ombudsman noted numerous barriers to the recruitment of Armed Forces members from the designated groups had been reported over the years, including language requirements, security-clearance delays and a lack of representation among recruiters.

The review also noted that because military personnel have to start at the bottom and work their way up, fixing the recruitment process is a critical first step. Concerns were nonetheless also identified around retention and promotions.

Lick emphasized the importance of addressing the problem given what he described as a growing need for a diverse force that reflects Canadian society and is able to operate in new and innovative ways.

“With the CAF currently operating at a deficit of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 regular and reserve force members and thousands of positions unfilled in the civilian ranks, a crisis is slowly emerging,” he said.

“Critical to the ongoing success of the DND and the CAF is ensuring that people of diverse backgrounds consider a career in these organizations and see themselves reflected in their mandates.”

While past reports and reviews have proposed a number of measures to address the problems, Lick echoed the anti-racism panel’s findings about a lack of action, saying: “It is unclear whether the CAF has implemented all these initiatives.”

Although Defence Minister Anita Anand was given four weeks to respond to the ombudsman’s report before its public release, Lick said he had yet to receive a response. The Defence Department did not immediately comment Monday.

Source: Military failing to remove barriers to diversifying ranks: ombudsman

Black Canadians fought racism, discrimination to serve in Second World War

Good reminder of one of the unfortunate parts of our history:

When one starts asking questions about the experience of Black Canadians during the Second World War, it doesn’t take long to land on the name Allan Bundy.

That’s because at a time when the Canadian Armed Forces is promising to crack down on systemic racism, as well as individual acts of discrimination in the ranks, Bundy’s story speaks to both.

He was one of many Black Canadians who had to overcome discrimination and racism to fight during the Second World War, says Canadian War Museum historian Andrew Burtch.

His story also highlights the long presence of racism in the Canadian Armed Forces, even as it strives today for more diversity, including by promising to end hateful conduct in the ranks.

“One of the top bullets in the most recent Canadian defence policy is looking at leveraging the diversity of the country as a strength and creating better circumstances to allow for that to happen, which would include making sure that people are supported,” Burtch said.

“Obviously there wasn’t that support before.”

Air force, navy quietly barred Black and Asian Canadians

Bundy was 19 years old when he and a white friend named Soupy Campbell went to the Halifax recruiting centre to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) as pilots. It was late 1939, Germany had just invaded Poland, and Canada and its allies were mobilizing their militaries after declaring war on the Nazis.

When Bundy and Campbell walked out, however, only Soupy had been accepted to join the RCAF. Bundy, according to the stories, felt like he had been rejected because of the recruiting officer’s own racist attitudes. Such incidents had been common during the First World War, in which Bundy’s own father had served in Canada’s only all-Black unit, the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

What Bundy didn’t know at the time was that the entire RCAF, as well as the Royal Canadian Navy, were quietly barring Black and Asian Canadians from all but the most general positions. The policy wasn’t publicized, but most jobs could only go to British subjects who were white or of “pure European descent.”

When conscription was introduced a few years later, the Canadian Army came calling for Bundy. But he wanted to fly, and he wasn’t afraid to say it when an RCMP officer visited a short time later to ask why he hadn’t responded to the Army’s summons.

“I told him that I had gone to join the Air Force in 1939 and if the bullet that kills me is not good enough for the Air Force, then it is not good enough for the Army either — so take me away,” Bundy later recalled telling the Mountie.

Soon afterward, Bundy visited the recruiting station again. By now, because of a shortage of trained pilots and aircrew, the RCAF had started to open its doors to Black Canadians and others.

Even after being accepted and trained, Bundy faced a new form of discrimination. None of the white navigators wanted to serve on his Bristol Beaufighter.

It was only after a sergeant by the name of Elwood Cecil Wright volunteered that Bundy became the first Black Canadian to fly a combat mission during the war.

During their first mission, the two sank a pair of enemy ships off the coast of Norway. They would fly 42 more missions together before the war ended and Bundy returned home to Halifax.

Service changed attitudes in Canadian society

The Canadian War Museum credits Bundy and dozens of other Black Canadians who served with the RCAF during the Second World War as having helped “change attitudes toward visible minorities in the military, and in Canadian society.”

Kathy Grant is the founder of the Legacy Voices Project, which seeks to share the stories of Black Canadians who served during the two world wars. One of those was Grant’s own father, Owen Rowe, who travelled to Canada from Barbados to volunteer for the Second World War and asked her to start the memorial project.

Grant believes the war helped pave the way for more rights and freedoms for Black Canadians.

Some such as Lincoln Alexander, who went on to become lieutenant-governor of Ontario, were able to take advantage of the benefits offered by Ottawa to veterans. Many also felt empowered to fight for those rights, and found allies in former comrades-in-arms who were white.

“They wanted things to change,” Grant said. “They were thinking: ‘Well, why are we fighting? Here it is, some of us are dying and they’re out of line by just denying us these rights.’ But it was a large shift for Canada as a whole.”

Source: Black Canadians fought racism, discrimination to serve in Second World War